Friday, May 2, 2008

How (not) to make friends

Social Networks world wideImage by Chewbacka via FlickrRegarding the social web and linking of 'friends', the currently available implementations such as Facebook etc. take the following approach:

First you identify who is your 'friend' (within the same network or application), this in turn determines which attributes they are allowed to see. Other classes of relationships like 'acquaintance', 'co-worker' 'school-mate' 'best friend' are now being proposed on the Data Portability forums to manage this.

This not only smells like bad design, but it appears to me to be an inversion of what happens in reality.

It is not the appointing of a 'friend' class to someone which determines who can see which of your attributes. It's the other way around: by allowing different identities to see different subsets of your attributes (gradually and over time), you define your relationship with these other identities. In other words, someone might become a friend after you decide he may see some of your attributes.

You don't have to decide on the relationship type upfront if you could granularly disclose attributes to various other identities (and maybe have the favor returned to you).

Off course people don't want to be bothered continuously with such fine-grained control over their individual attributes. As usual, software programs can ease the burden and help with common tasks.

Not many people currently craft their HTML documents and HTTP requests by hand to publish or read on the world-wide web. Still, inter-operability of all the different software is possible, thanks to the underlying standards. Sadly, we don't have these for identities and their attributes yet.

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